Independent Media in Russia Under Attack as IStories Branded “Foreign Agent”

Published: 20 August 2021

 The staff of IStories. Credit: Istories. The staff of IStories. Credit: Istories.


Russia’s government on Friday named IStories Media a “foreign agent,” ramping up a campaign that has seen some of the country’s top independent media outlets effectively blacklisted this year.

The implications of being dubbed a “foreign agent” are serious. News organizations and journalists with the designation must identify themselves as foreign agents every time they publish anything, and make significant and burdensome financial disclosures. Some media outlets have seen their advertising revenues dry up and been forced to shut down.

Drew Sullivan, the co-founder and editor-in-chief of OCCRP, called the decision “the final attack on independent media in Russia.” 

IStories, which was founded last year by Roman Anin, one of Russia’s leading investigative journalists, is an OCCRP member center whose reporters often collaborate with OCCRP and contribute to its investigations.

Anin himself, along with five other IStories journalists — Roman Shleynov, Olesya Shmagun, Alesya Markhovskaya, Irina Dolinina, and Dmitry Velikovsky — were also given the “foreign agent” designation on Friday. So was the television station Dozhd (TV Rain).

“As long as I’ve known Roman Anin and his fine team at IStories Media, I’ve known him to be honest and very pro-Russia,” Sullivan said. “He loves his country. That’s why the Kremlin calling him a foreign agent today is so ironic.”

Since a tougher version of its foreign agent law came into effect in March, the Russian government has used it to target both organizations and individual journalists and human rights activists who receive any sort of assistance or funding from abroad. 

Both Meduza and IStories were added to the blacklist after an “anti-globalization activist” named Alexander Ionov complained to authorities about them — in the case of IStories, because it had received foreign funding.

In an official statement, IStories, which is registered outside Russia, said it had always been open about that fact. 

“Since our founding a year ago, we have not hidden from our readers that we are registered abroad,” the outlet said. “We did this in order to be free, and so as not to turn, like the Russian state media, into the information service of the government, which barks when ordered to do so.”

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